Study In Bronx

A good hard rain

soaked the ashes left behind for

months and years so the gray streets

were redolent of wet smoldering timber on the

empty lots we passed, Keds

flap flap echoing down pavement.

The meaning of flight: pink rubber ball

soars over three manhole covers.

The long street curves into nothing.

There was too much, and now there is none.

Strangers can’t see the sparrows’

brown wings beating against the windows.

There was too much Bronx to save

so we plowed it under like a fallow field.

Cracked spoons, Matchbox cars missing

wheels, a toothless comb all turned up in the

dirt after we peeled off the pavement

to make the Bronx disappear.

A layer of peach pit rings and

rusty skate keys. The

shadows on the fire escapes and the

all-night siren songs.

Down the block they are

shoveling in the alleys,

coughing in the coal chutes,

tending their back yard roses against all odds.

A permanent limp, a

linoleum clinic. Colicky fluorescent

light, creaking down the

radiator steam hallways. The

schoolhouse rises when

everything else is gone.

Children run a concrete patch

penned inside a

chain link fence. Even cattle

get some grass.  But what is the color

green? Why does it vibrate against the sky?

I am a fugitive on the el train. Rumbling

past rain-streaked windows,

my new passport packed in haste.

Just when we think we have come to the end,

there is still more Bronx

insisting on being born, demanding

full cheeks and beating hearts.

I left the air still vibrating and

on it goes, each spring heavy with lilacs.

In the neighborhood with no name,

crushed under pillars of the interstate,

even here, we know what life is

because it pushes through the cracks.

This poem was inspired by Will Nixon, leader of an informal poetry group in Woodstock, New York. This afternoon we all met at his house over cider and scones and Will read us a  beautiful poem called To Go To Lvov by Adam Zagajewski. This was followed by a writing exercise called an Emotional Landscape. What came out was this mini-history in poetic form incorporating some of my childhood memories of The Bronx. You can do the same exercise at different times and have entirely different results. The act of listening to and responding to this poem took me on a journey today, and that is why I’m sharing this poem. I call it Study in Bronx because it is kind of a portrait, and as a play on “study in bronze,” which sounds like an awfully permanent medium for something as ephemeral-sounding as a “study.”

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